The Theatreguide.London Review
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Open Air Theatre Summer 2003
This is one of Shakespeare's least-often produced comedies, not because there's anything wrong with it, but because most of its elements appear in others of his plays, where they work a little better.
I can imagine a director considering this one and then saying, 'Why should I when I can do Twelfth Night or As You Like It or the Dream, and have more fun with much the same material?'
Which is one reason to be happy that director Rachel Kavanaugh has chosen to do the Two Gents, just because we don't get enough opportunities to enjoy it.
And if her production for the Regent's Park theatre isn't a total success, it still provides its quota of laughs and loveliness for a pleasant summer evening.
Proteus and Julia are in love, but when he goes off to visit his best friend Valentine he falls for Val's lady Silvia and turns villain, doing all he can to steal her from his buddy.
Meanwhile, Julia has disguised herself as a boy and come after him.
Throw in some wisecracking servants, a band of forest outlaws, and one of the best roles for a dog in all of world drama, and there's enough there for an evening's light entertainment.
It's not unusual for those servants (and that dog) to steal their scenes, but one of the weaknesses of this production is that they completely steal the show, making us almost resent the central characters and main plot for constantly interrupting them.
John Hodgkinson makes Valentine's man Speed a lugubrious cynic who has seen it all before and has little patience with his master's romantic follies.
And the theatre's Artistic Director Ian Talbot makes an infrequent and welcome return to the stage as Launce, long-suffering master of the ill-behaved dog whose described off-stage antics are a comic contrast to its onstage placidity.
(One Josie Kavanaugh, a close associate of the director, makes a brilliant Shakespearean debut in the role.)
Nicholas Burns is a stalwart Valentine, wisely realising that an essential part of the romantic hero's character is that he be a bit dim, and Nick Fletcher makes Proteus amiably attractive even in the depths of his villainy.
The women are somewhat less successful in finding characters, with Phillipa Peak's Julia, Issy van Randwyck's Sylvia and Victoria Woodward's maid able to do little more than pose prettily in Paul Farnsworth's eighteenth-century gowns.
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